Thursday, November 29, 2007

Christmas Ramble

Today I sat at Union Square waiting for a friend, who was late, so I sat there longer than I wanted to. He told me to meet him at the Christmas tree, which I agreed to, being the agreeable person that I am. It was sunny, so it was nice enough, and I read my book, which is a rather a good book. Still, the tree was distracting, all big and strange-looking in front of me. There were signs all around it saying "Macy's gift to the City of San Francisco", as if Macy's was so charitable and wonderful and giving and not a mega department store that has survived and flourished because people like to buy things they don't need. Also, the weather seemed all wrong for Christmas, even though I know that's is just some engrained East Coast thing. And then there's this: do we really deserve Christmas? Oh, I dunno. I really didn't feel like we do, sitting there at Union Square, among the Dior and the Levi's and the Victoria's Secret in the San Francisco sun. This consumer, shopping-mall aspect of it is just painful that's all. I look forward to spending time with my family and taking pause from these busy past few months, but I will not stop complaining about the Christmas carol hold music at the insurance companies I call at work, the constant wishes of happly holidays from people who don't even know me, the barage of sales and holiday gift ideas. Argh. Yuck. I know you agree with me, but I'm wondering what we are to do about it. Or maybe it's just me. I don't deserve Christmas. I've been naughty this year, and I'm not even Christian for crying out loud, but I still get giddy each year as we unwrap the ornaments my father's mother gave us when I was little and all the ones we've collected around the world. And the day itself. The waking up late and leisurely breakfast and big dinner, the nothing much else going on, and of course the presents that we've belly-ached over for weeks. Especially my father...without fail each year he begs me and my sister for advice about getting a gift for my mom. It's cute, but annoying, especially since he rejects 95% of my suggestions. Where am I going with all this? Christmas is what I want it to be! Not you, Macy's and your ugly Christmas tree! Me, me, me!

Disturbing Christmas facts from Harper's Index this month:

Estimated amount that Americans lose every year by not redeeming gift cards: $8,000,000,000

(Dude! Why? Maybe the gift cards were to places the receivers didn't care to go.)

Percentage of shopping-mall and party Santas who believe that children "lie when they say they have been good": 54

Number of golf clubs a Phoenix tourism group is sending to troops overseas as part of its "Operation White Christmas": 14,000

(Wondering where troops play golf overseas...)

Number of Christmas trees FedExed last year to U.S. troops: 11,854

Number of seconds it takes a synthetic Christmas tree to burn: 32

Monday, November 19, 2007

Allah Yirhamuha

This is a photograph that I took of my grandmother three years ago, sitting at a cafe up the mountain from her home. She passed away this morning in Beirut. (It was still night in San Francisco.) Her spirit will live on in those she loved.

Friday, November 16, 2007

let's go whaling!

One of my regular stops on this wide web is Rob Brezny's Free Will Astrology. Ok, ok, so horoscopes are often silly and open-ended. Susan Miller's can be somewhat enlightening, but more often way too heavy. And is it worth taking any of that stuff seriously anyway? So many answers to this question but I guess it all boils down to us looking for ways to define our uncertain futures. Still, Rob Brezny isn't as irreverent as The Onion or as painfully pointless as Cosmo, but he manages to convey a message and pack in some intriguing info about the bigger world out there. So my horoscope on Free Will this week, made me do a little googling, and I found out that last June some Inuit fishermen killed a whale off Alaska somewhere and in its blubber found a harpoon that has been traced back to the 1800's. Which means the whale was over 100 years old when it died! And according to Rob Brezny, that harpoon symbolizes old wounds that I've had since my youth (and this goes for all you Tauruses out there), wounds that I actively need to work on healing, especially THIS WEEK! But I'm not sure how this all applies to the reality that the whale died and the harpoon has been dug out of its fat more than a century after the fact is accounted for in the horoscope. Am I metaphorically a hundred years old? Maybe I need to embody the hunter. Huh, Rob? What am I supposed to do?!

Saturday, November 10, 2007

catastrophic days

That is a photo of a dead, somewhat flattened pigeon shoved into a grate, headfirst. Encountered FRIDAY night at the corner of something and Valencia. Pretty devastating. And yesterday (SATURDAY) I saw two more, as I was biking around. Those two were much flatter, small raised discs of pigeon that I rolled by on the asphalt as I rode home from the grocery store.

On MONDAY I went to my cousin's house where they have satellite tv, and on the news there were stock market line graphs flashing downwards across the screen. Seems the market "has an upset stomach," as my father described it yesterday on the phone. And last night I was sitting in front of the same television again. We were watching something called "No Comment" on Euronews, a show that consisted of video coverage with no commentary, not even in a language I can't understand, not even scrolling across the bottom of the screen. There was footage of a mob of black-hoodied people in Prague, beating each other up, against grey walls. And then the cops showed up and then it switched to somewhere in the boondocks of Turkey, where peasants set up camp and hauled things against a stark desert. In the distance behind their tents, there were dunes of dark pebbles, what might have been coal? And all this as my little cousins expended energy at our feet:

On TUESDAY I woke up early and voted. Off-year, so there were like six propositions and of course Gavin Newsom won for mayor, perhaps because, as someone told me later that day, "He's just so damn good-looking," and the roster of people he was running against read like a variety show line-up. The volunteers were sweet, but seemed a little incompetent, and I wondered how voting could be more powerful than certain conversations.

On WEDNESDAY, this happened, but I didn't hear about it until THURSDAY, and even then I was too busy getting painfully drunk with the best coworkers a girl could ask for. And so I started to process it on FRIDAY. 36,000 gallons of oil fuel (which is somewhere in between gasoline and straight-up crude oil) spilled in San Francisco Bay. Unforgivably slow response and the poison spread quickly and far, closing down more than a dozen beaches, seriously the most amazing gems of our city and surrounds. But then this fine SUNDAY morning I happened to click on this. 1,300 tons of oil fuel spilled in the Black Sea after an oil tanker split in half?!

Still the thing that gets me most is that after a nice walk with a friend in yesterday's grey drizzle, about a half a block from my house I encountered a man I often see hanging out on the streets of my neighborhood. He was standing still right in the middle of the sidewalk, facing east, underneath one of those huge black umbrellas, the kind my dad used to have. And as I slowly walked by him, I realized his head was bowed towards his chest and he was sleeping.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

scars are sexy

So I got a forward from my good friend D in NYC the other day telling me that a novel called The Scar of David by Susan Abulhawa won a national award. The synopsis that followed said the book traces the lives in a Palestinian family through the major wars and massacres of the second half of the 20th century, starting with the Naqbe in 1948 through to the Jenin massacres in 2002. And I was excited. A novel about Palestine and by a Palestinian-American awarded the National Book Award? In a country like this? With the whitewashed, privileged literary establishment we have? Amazing! But, no. Upon closer inspection of D's email I realized it wasn't the esteemed National Book Award that Ms. Abulhawa won but something called the National "Best Books" Award, which, from what I can tell, isn't quite so esteemed. And in an email exchange with D, I realized The Scar of David had crossed my desk last spring. D sent it to me asking me to review it for an academic journal about the Middle East she's involved with. I remember getting 34 pages into it, trying to like it, wanting to at least be interested by it, but so bored by the limpid prose, the repetitive description, and the predictable, slow storyline that I had to stop. It would have been too painful to go on. I even remember being offended at the way Ms. Abulhawa represented her own people! When I told D how I felt, she had agreed I should stop. It seemed obvious it was a waste of time.

So why did the book win an award? There are many possible reasons. Maybe after page 34 it got really amazing. Maybe I am close-minded about prose and not fit to review anything that I don't consider up to a certain level that is completely arbitrary, some standard I've established in my mind that can't ever apply to the world at large, even though I might feel like it does. More likely, perhaps, the topic of Palestine is "sexy" lately (you know, Arabs and terrorists and shit) and gets little novelistic treatment on American bookshelves, so Ms. Abulhawa fulfilled some need, found some pocket of interest. And perhaps her prose, which I found limpid, to some is quite readable, easy, understandable, clear. Ms. Abulhawa's website says she was the speaker at some Wisconsin book event, and that she just sold Dutch rights with 10,000 copies pre-sold (a decent number if you who don't know from publishing). Where am I going with all this? Oh, you know, to a pessimistic place... where art and cultural exposure don't necessarily coincide. I'd love it if a good novel about Palestine or Lebanon or Egypt won an American award. But the fact that a bad (ok so I'm not 100% sure it's bad but at this point I'm going with it) one did, and that this bad novel is primarily a topical novel, riles me for a bevy of complicated reasons I can't disentangle for you right here and now. Maybe I should just shut up and go work on my own book already. (Incidentally, I do think scars are sexy.)